SEC threatens fines, suspensions

NEW YORK -- Publicly griping about officials in the Southeastern Conference just got a lot more costly for Lane Kiffin and the rest of the league's coaches.

After three SEC coaches in two weeks, including Tennessee's Kiffin, received reprimands for ripping officials, the conference has decided that future punishment for similar antics will be fines and suspensions.

A memorandum was sent by the league office on Friday to every school making them aware of the change, which is effective immediately.

Commissioner Mike Slive, in his eighth season with the conference, was given full discretion by the league's athletic directors and presidents to hand out the punishment. He will determine the amount of fines and lengths of suspensions on a case-by-case basis.

"On rare occasions over the last seven years there were several private reprimands and that took care of the matter," Slive told the AP in a telephone interview. "On occasion there were public reprimands and that took care of it. It became clear to me after last week that I was no longer interested in reprimands and the conference athletic directors and university presidents unanimously agreed.

"For the foreseeable future there will be no reprimands," Slive added. "We will go right to suspensions and fines."

The Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences also use public reprimands, fines and suspensions as possible penalties for coaches who are publicly critical of officiating.

The SEC's officiating, and public complaints by a few coaches about it, has drawn plenty of unwanted attention to Slive's conference.

Last week, an SEC officiating crew was suspended after it called penalties the league said were not supported by video evidence in the LSU-Georgia game on Oct. 3 and the Arkansas-Florida game on Oct. 17.

The SEC publicly announced the suspension, an unprecedented move by the conference.

Slive said that while he believes the SEC officiating has been good this season, the unusual circumstances with that one crew convinced him to go public with the punishment.

"It had to do with a very unusual confluence of events that we have not seen before and I doubt we will see again, in that we had two calls by a crew over a relatively short period of time that the video evidence did not support," Slive said. "And one of the rules in play was the excessive celebration rule that has long been a subject of public debate.

"Given all that, we felt it was important to say publicly the discipline we had imposed. That is not something we expect to have to do again."

The day after the crew was suspended, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was reprimanded by Slive for making critical statements about officiating in the Razorbacks' 23-20 loss at Florida.

Then on Sunday, Kiffin and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen each went off on the officiating in their Saturday games. Kiffin's Volunteers lost 12-10 at Alabama and Mullen's Bulldogs lost 29-19 to Florida in Starkville, Miss.

The SEC responded on Monday by reprimanding both coaches for violating league ethics rules. The league made no public admonishment of the calls that Kiffin and Mullen complained about.

Kiffin made it clear he was not worried about getting a reprimand for his comments.

"I'm sure we'll get one of those letters that really means nothing as Bobby got last week, but Florida and Alabama live on," he said Sunday.

Tennessee spokeswoman Tiffany Carpenter said Friday that Kiffin and athletic director Mike Hamilton would not comment on the SEC's stiffer penalties.

"We fully expect and anticipate that we will have the full cooperation of our coaches from this day forward," Slive said.

Kiffin's reprimand was his second of the year and it came with a warning from Slive, who said that another would result in a stiffer penalty, such as a fine or suspension.

Now all the coaches face tougher penalties. And the head coaches will be held responsible if members of their team or staff slam officials publicly.

Kiffin received his first reprimand in February for accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of violating recruiting rules.

Kiffin and Meyer tossed a few verbal jabs at each other in the following months, and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier even weighed in about Kiffin at one point. Slive twice this year has talked to Meyer and Kiffin about all the chatter.

Slive said he is always available to speak to coaches about concerns about officiating, but he does not feel the need to speak to any coaches individually on the subject.

"I think the memo is crystal clear," Slive said. "It needs no embellishment."